|A Nast cartoon: Who stole the people's money? 'Twas him.|
Hall is on the right, with the outsized pince-nez.
|Striking a Napoleonic pose. |
Or just scratching.
|Carrying his budget. And a heavy load it was.|
|Dullsville incarnate, but sometimes that's just|
Why anyone would have wanted to be mayor of New York in the 1970s, inheriting all the woes that had so bedeviled John Lindsay, is a mystery that only ambitious politicians can explain. But mayor he was, and saddled at once with the worst fiscal crisis in the city’s history as banks denied credit and – to the astonishment and bafflement of most citizens – bankruptcy loomed. It seemed impossible, inconceivable, but there it was: bankruptcy! Schools were half-built, public works spending was halted, streets were dangerous and dirty, libraries had shorter hours, firehouses and police stations had to be closed; the city, in short, was in a state of collapse. Desperate, Mayor Beame coped as best he could, cutting the city work force drastically, freezing wages, limiting services, and raising taxes – hardly a formula to endear him to a mystified public not used to such painful retrenchment. With the city still short of funds, Beame begged state and federal officials for help. President Gerald Ford was at first indifferent, provoking the Daily News’s memorable headline: FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD. In time both Washington and Albany came through, while taking great chunks out of the mayor’s autonomy.
What can one conclude from glancing at these six mayors? Several things, I think:
- If you've enjoyed two successful terms as mayor, don't run again; quit while you're ahead. People will get tired of you.
- Watch out for the slim, elegant ones, especially if they smile (Fernando Wood, Jimmy Walker); they aren't to be trusted.
- There's a law of opposites. Tired of the incumbent, voters go for his polar opposite. Dinkins was the opposite of Koch, who was the opposite of Beame, who was the opposite of Lindsay.
Coming soon: The greatest mayor of them all, Fiorello. Other prospects include Andy Warhol (a friend of ours knew him), transportation in the city, lighting in the city, and the ladder of thieves ca. 1870 (from hog thieves and coat snatchers up to safe blowers).
© 2013 Clifford Browder